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Exhibit honors orthopedic surgeons of WWII

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They were few, but the work they performed was pioneering, if not at times miraculous. They were the orthopedic surgeons who served on every front during World War II.

Now, their stirring and heroic stories have been captured and preserved by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in a film, "Wounded in Action," which will be shown as part of an exhibit Sept. 9-Oct. 8 at the Salt Lake City and County Building. The film will be shown at the new Salt Lake City Library.

Utah is one of only 12 states that will host the exhibit this year.

The exhibit includes 22 towers of memorabilia, photos, stories, interactive DVDs and artifacts from the era. The film, several years in the making, is told in first-person narrative with profiles of the citizen-soldiers who served as orthopedic surgeons in the medical corps. The 49-minute film captures the brutal realities of war, along with personal accounts from the doctors who healed and saved soldiers and sailors.

Orthopedic surgery came of age during World War II, and the experiences learned there enabled the profession to advance greatly to mend and heal today's wounded, whether military or civilian casualties of war or accidents. Doctors during World War II had none of today's miracle drugs and little of today's technology.

" 'Legacy of Heroes' is a reminder that the freedoms we enjoy today were secured by thousands of courageous men and women who served in World War II. Seeing this war from the perspective of those who were called to treat more than 600,000 wounded soldiers under horrific battlefield conditions gives new meaning to bravery and sacrifice," said Dr. Dennis Gordon, president of the Utah State Orthopaedic Society, sponsor of the exhibit.

The exhibit opens to the public from 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday starting Tuesday. On weekdays, "Wounded in Action" will be shown in the evening at the library and in the afternoon hours during weekends.

An invitation-only gala will be held Friday at 6:30 p.m. in the City Library. Former Congressman Jim Hansen will speak, a light buffet will be served and the film "Wounded in Action" will be shown. Those interested in attending can call 266-9935.

Retired Rear Adm. Dr. James Fowler spent five years with the Marines as a flight surgeon, including 13 months with a helicopter squadron in Vietnam. He is a general and plastic surgeon and is not an orthopedic surgeon but has been picked to chair the advisory committee for the exhibition. He said one of the purposes of the traveling exhibit is to recognize all the veterans who served in WWII "and more specifically those associated with medicine during the war."

"We have some physicians who didn't serve as physicians during the war, but came back and went to medical school."

Fowler, who flew 120 combat missions during Vietnam, recalled his saddest day of the war — the day he sent out a medevac helicopter that didn't come back. "We lost all the crew. I had to pick up my corpsman and the pilot, who was my roommate, and put them in body bags. If the call came, they went . . . that's the kind of guys they were."

E-mail: lweist@desnews.com